Health insurance is a good idea for everyone, including people without underlying health problems. But health insurance can be very expensive if your employer doesn’t pay for it, and navigating the health insurance market can be chaotic and soul-sucking. About 10% of Americans did not have health insurance in 2020, and most who are uninsured because they cannot afford it, or are not eligible for financial aid in their state.
But everyone needs to see a doctor once in a while. So what do you do?
First, a reminder that you may be eligible for Medicaid financial aid depending on your circumstances and state, and that you may also be eligible for Medicare. Even if you’ve checked in the past, it’s worth checking to see if your state is eligible for Medicaid, as it’s expanded in most states. You can also complete this application to see which government assistance programs you qualify for. In addition, there are plans that.
If those plans don’t fit, you’re out of options. Here are tricks for getting quality assurance when paying out of pocket.
Benefit from preventive care and free screenings
Some cities or pharmacies have pop-up events that run simple blood tests or health checks. Keep an eye out for these events and take advantage of them, as they can help you monitor your health and hopefully avoid more doctor visits or medical interventions later.
In New York, for example, the health department says it offers free breast, colorectal and cervical cancer screening for uninsured people in the state. If you have a health problem that you want to check, searching for “free screening/testing near me” wouldn’t be a bad way to start, just in case there are opportunities nearby.
Always tell your doctor and reception that you do not have health insurance
It is the job of doctors to care for you, and that means making sure you have access to the care they recommend. Before we get into the details of where and when to get healthcare, it’s a good idea to let the person checking you in for your appointment know that you’re not insured and will pay out of pocket. That way, they can give you the payment options available, including a payment plan or a sliding payment scale, if you qualify.
Using telemedicine for primary/non-emergency doctor visits
Telemedicine isn’t going anywhere. And depending on the service you use, you can save money by making a doctor’s visit online, regardless of your insurance status.
If you don’t have health insurance, K Health is a good option for those looking for general primary care. For $35, you can make an appointment with a doctor to discuss a problem or treat a pre-existing condition that you know you already have. K Health also says you can start a monthly membership plan starting at $29 for unlimited primary care visits.
What sets K Health apart from other telemedicine services is their symptom search tool, which allows you to enter all of your symptoms and see some of the most common diagnoses from people with similar symptoms who have received an official diagnosis.
Another great option if you don’t have health insurance is Sesame, a simple telehealth site for booking a cheap doctor’s appointment online (sometimes just $20). Their website is designed so that you can search for a doctor, and you can also schedule an in-person appointment, although an in-person price may be higher.
Go to walk-in clinics and shop around for those who have pay scales
If you have a health problem that requires hands-on healing from a provider that telemedicine just can’t provide, look for local walk-in clinics, community health centers, or similar healthcare facilities. These facilities will likely be much cheaper than paying cash at a hospital or private practice, but you should be prepared to pay a fee up front. A popular walk-in clinic for non-emergency cases is the CVS MinuteClinic.
Community health clinics often have a sliding scale available if you can’t afford the full cost, but you may need to bring proof of eligibility (such as paychecks). Fortunately, some community clinics have a “no patients turned away for lack of funds” policy, which is helpful if you can’t afford to pay a fee. You can search for a sliding scale health center on this federal directory. Some public hospitals also offer sliding benefits.
Some community centers are designed to serve certain specific populations, for example LGBTQ+ people, those without housing, or even musicians. It’s worth checking if any of these apply to you.
Look in direct primary care
Another model of care that is gaining popularity is direct primary care, where you pay the health care provider a monthly fee instead of the insurance company, allowing you to develop a deeper relationship with your doctor in addition to cheaper bills. This model should work well for many uninsured patients who need regular monitoring, but you may be looking for additional tests or referrals if needed. Here’s a map that can help you locate a DPC facility near you.
Go to the emergency room if it is a real emergency
If you are injured or your life is in danger, call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room right away. Regardless of your ability to pay or your health insurance, doctors are required by law to treat anyone who experiences a medical emergency. While medical bills can be daunting, your health is worth more than any amount of money.
When you check in or out, you can tell the front desk that you are not insured and they can help you set up a payment plan. You should also tell your doctor that you are uninsured in the event that it changes when they suggest a follow-up appointment or follow-up care plan should you need one.
Negotiate when you get the medical bill
If you get the bill in the mail and are surprised to see what it says, call the hospital and ask for an itemized version, or go over each charge to make sure you were billed correctly. If you still can’t afford it then see if they want to lower it.
If they can’t lower it, ask to make a payment plan. Tell them what you can and want to pay, and someone from the billing department will most likely be able to work it out with you.
Do your research before the appointment so you don’t agree to unnecessary tests
Gone are the days of WebMD diagnoses – if you know how to look for it, there is a lot of credible health information publicly available online. Of course, it’s important not to panic with cancer when typing your headache symptoms. But we’ve come a long way in the year 2022, and some of the guidance and research that provides current diagnoses and treatments for common diseases is just a web search away, with listings from reputable medical organizations.
For example, if you need to see the gynecologist, you can find information on various reproductive health topics from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a major medical college that sets the standard of care for practicing Ob-Gyns in the US. The American Academy of Pediatrics helps guide standards of care in the US for health professionals who treat children.
Major hospital systems, such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic, are also good online resources to consult before an appointment to find out the recommended course of treatment for your health problem, so you’re not completely blindsided by a test (or you could see or another treatment option could be cheaper but just as effective). The US Preventative Services Task Force is another institution you can consult for testing and preventive care. And the one we’ve all become familiar with during the pandemic: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are constantly updating their guidelines on disease and public health.
These are just a few sources that rely on current medical information. While searching online, be sure to check the date on the page that indicates when the article or page was last published. These colleges and institutes are constantly updating guidelines and health information to reflect new research into patient treatment.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare professional if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.